The Perspiration of History

While out in the garage, trying to get the  bird feeders back into operation, I came across a full page newspaper ad from May 2000. The page had been saved because it was nicely designed and  captured a particular moment in time.

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The ad had been bought by the Urban Pest Management Council of Canada at the time the pesticide by-law in Halifax was about to be passed. The images (dandelion, ragweed, grubs) and copy writing (there is more not shown) were  designed to hit every hot button: lower property value, danger to your family, loss of freedom.

Ephemera are those bits of paper that are not meant to have an enduring life; they are intended to be thrown away. I like the description of ephemera as “the perspiration of history.” The “neighbours” ad led me to look at my little pile of printed paper for some more examples of ephemera that reflected their times.

When Canada converted to the metric system in the early 70s there were a lot of print pieces to get us ready.  Here is a little card produced by the NS Government (it didn’t help one little bit).

23-11-2016The best piece of metric ephemera (cannot locate my copy) was a full page newspaper ad that simply said “Say Goodnight to Fahrenheit.” It appeared the day of the official switch over.

This is the cover of a little brochure Sobeys produced in the 80s when they started to introduce universal product code scanners.  UPCs changed retail and the design of every product label.


Those of you who have grownup with curbside recycling might not realize that there was a middle period where we demonstrated our commitment by lugging material clean across town. In the 80s a group organized recycling of glass and cans once a month in the St Thomas / LeMarchant School yard. When it started we had to remove paper labels from wine bottles.  Here is a little photocopied handbill.

23-11-2014 05;48;32PMThis sticker was picked up on a  trip to New York about 1988. The AIDS crisis was still unfolding and this direct little poster was unlike anything we had seen in Halifax.  I just looked it up  and it was produced by a group called Gran Fury (the model of Plymouth used by the NYPD). Gran Fury were a communications cell of Act Up, the prominent AIDS advocacy group.

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Saving ephemera is an amusing and easy activity.  You just do a little curating of the paper that passes your way.  I don’t save much these days but let me show you the sort of items that I think will age well.

Items to do with local food and wine; we are still in the early days. Here is a beautiful, hand drawn label I picked up at the Garlic Festival this fall and a sophisticated illustration on a little promotional card for Nova 7, our most famous wine.


This 2012 invitation  to the launch event for Local Connections Halifax Magazine is perfect. Crisply  letterpress-printed on card stock by Inkwell, the event was at Local Source. Very of the time.

23-11-2014 05;47;53PM - Copy-001Finally a couple of bookmarks for the new library- will you miss the photoshopped images of the model? These will be instant antiques. And a public engagement form for the Cogswell Street Interchange planning process.  Can you see a future collecting field?


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About the author

Stephen Archibald

It’s Stephen Archibald doing the noticing. I’m a huge fan of Nova Scotia’s material culture and cultural landscapes. Twitter (@Cove17 ) made me realize I could share what attracted my attention (perfect for my very short attention) and I’m gratified when folks enjoy my content. Pleased to meet you on the internet.